October 10, 2016

Employment News Whistleblower Retaliation

Whistleblower Retaliation and the Wells Fargo Scandal

The Wells Fargo fraud case is now a widespread national scandal, as several employees allege they were fired for reporting company misconduct and systemic and deceitful sales tactics. High-pressure environments drove many employees to create fraudulent accounts to meet sales targets, leading to nearly 5,300 employees being fired for ethics violations. If evidence supports these allegations, then the case for whistleblower retaliation is clear amidst one of the largest bank fraud schemes in history. Between 2010 and 2014, there were at least five Wells Fargo employees who filed lawsuits or made complaints to the U.S. Labor Department against the bank, raising questions about how early Wells Fargo knew about the claims and subsequent retaliation.

The Scheme 
Initial investigations have shown that a high-pressure sales environment within Wells Fargo led to the opening of nearly 2 million accounts without customer authorization. Employees used phony email addresses and fake pins to authenticate the accounts, then charged customers user fees associated with the unauthorized accounts. Some employees even forged customer signatures, according to complaints. 

Whistleblower Retaliation Claims 
Many Wells Fargo employees reported they were fired or demoted for failing to meet unrealistic sales quotas. At least four class action lawsuits have been filed by employees asserting they were penalized or terminated for refusing to create unauthorized accounts. Another five employees have filed individual claims or complaints for retaliation for reporting the creation of fraudulent accounts. The claims include two employees who reported the illegal sales practices to Wells Fargo’s ethics hotline and then were terminated within two weeks of their reports: one fired for allegedly falsifying documents, the other for tardiness. This retaliation is particularly troubling given the reports were made to a hotline meant to protect employees and the organization.

Thus far, Wells Fargo has been ordered to pay $185 million in fines and restitution after federal regulators confirmed the allegations of customers and former employees. The scope of this scandal remains to be seen as federal investigators are still determining how widespread the deceptive practices were and to what extent employees have been fired for reporting misconduct.

How are Minnesota whistleblower employees protected?
In addition to federal laws, such as the Sarbanes-Oxley Act (“SOX”), the False Claims Act (“FCA”), and the Occupation Safety and Health Act (“OSHA”), Minnesota whistleblower employees are protected from retaliation under the Minnesota Whistleblower Act. Under this Act, employers are prohibited from retaliating, discriminating against or taking other adverse action against an employee who reports or refuses to engage in illegal conduct. Employers violating the Act may be liable for compensatory damages (including back pay), punitive damages, attorney’s fees, penalties and other remedies. If you believe your employer has retaliated against you or treated you differently for reporting or refusing to engage in illegal acts, contact an attorney to discuss your rights or click here for more information about whistleblower protection in Minnesota.

Minnesota Whistleblower Retaliation Lawyers
If you have suffered retaliation for reporting or refusing to engage in employer misconduct and are interested in learning more about your rights, contact our Minneapolis and St. Paul employment lawyers. Wanta Thome PLC is committed to protecting the rights of employees throughout Minnesota. Contact us at 612-252-3570 or click here for a free initial consultation.